Medical preoccupation reflects social ills

Editorial | Mary Ma 12 Jul 2019

It's hardly surprising that a handful of traditional elite schools have emerged winners again in the Diploma of Secondary Education and International Baccalaureate examinations this year, accounting for most of the top performers.

But it's alarming to note most of these top scorers - more than half of them, to be more exact - have expressed a wish to study medicine, either locally or overseas. That's worrisome, for it means fewer top performers are choosing other professions that used to rank equally in prestige with medicine.

It may be argued that since the entry requirements for medical training are extremely high, only those achieving the very best marks can possibly apply.

That's a fallacious hypothesis, since this simply doesn't explain why fewer elite graduates nowadays are considering other traditionally top professions like law, accounting, etc. The increasingly homogeneity of study preferences is also showing us that Hong Kong's economy is becoming homogeneous.

Instead of striding to create new industries, its scope is narrowing - despite efforts by previous administrations to create new economic pillars for the SAR.

The trend is hardly new. Medicine has always been among the preferred subjects for top performers who score straight As in the old system or 5** in the new one. But there were bound to be a number of them - not as few as now - saying they would like to become lawyers, architects, mechanical engineers, so on. Shouldn't these professions be symbolic of social success too?

Admittedly, as the perceived prestige of traditional studies drops, so do their admission requirements.

What does it mean? The foundation of our economic structure has become dangerously narrow nowadays. I fear it will be even more difficult for the younger generations to overcome barriers to climb the social ladder in future.

One of the outcomes of the public exams this year is that an average of 1.5 candidates compete for one university place, which is probably among the best in memory for students - meaning the chance for them to further their studies locally is greatly enhanced.

But consultants are also reporting an increase in inquiries about learning in overseas high schools and universities, revealing a keener interest for parents to see their children study abroad despite the improved opportunities here.

Certainly, among the reasons may be the fact that certain programs are only available elsewhere.

However, I suspect this may also have to do with Hong Kong's environment that began to deteriorate not just now, but several years ago. "Fragrant Harbour" has become very politicized, and students are often at the center of the conflicts.

Many parents are also confused by the situation, just as much as the youngsters. For those who can afford the expensive tuition fees and accommodation costs, it becomes a matter of insurance to send their children overseas.

But these are only the minority. While the majority simply don't have the financial means to do so, it doesn't imply they don't share the concern about their offsprings' future.

Policymakers will have to face and address all these concerns squarely in the face - the sooner the better.

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